It wasn’t too long ago that the only way to watch a movie was to journey to the local movie theater or drive-in. For many, “going out” meant “going to the movies.” Then VCRs were introduced, and soon folks were buying and renting their favorite flicks to enjoy in the convenience and comfort of home. Something was missing, though, and I’m not talking about $8 buckets of popcorn and chairs still sticky from soda spilled two matinees ago.
The VCR tapes had a tendency to jam or suddenly self-destruct mid-movie, unfurling celluloid into a linguine-like tangle. You grabbed a #2 pencil, stuck the eraser in the tape roller and hoped it wind back for one more showing. TVs were big and boxy with limited audio and visual playback capabilities that often turned even the most stirring soundtracks and special effects into hollow artifacts. There had to be a better way.
Today, the concept of home as a theater is no longer just a concept. For many folks, the home now serves as the entertainment complex. DVDs and Blu-Ray discs have brought the movie theater experience right into the living room. In fact, it’s possible to have audio superior to the Cineplex, simply because you don’t need to throw sound across 10,000 square feet, and you can sit where the sound is best and have control of the volume to boot. It’s easy to take it all for granted. Home theater is about convenience and comfort, but it should also be dynamic and engaging. After all, why sit through an epic battle scene that doesn’t “feel” epic?
If you’re still pondering a home theater system but haven’t taken the plunge either because you thought it would be too complicated or expensive, read on. Likewise, if you want surround-like sound but don’t have the space for a half-dozen speakers and wires, read on. Or, maybe you want more than the bargain-priced and equally bargain-performing home theater-in-a-box “solutions”?
It wasn’t until I heard ZVOX’s Z-Base 550 – a unit I recently reviewed – that I could recommend a soundbar as a viable home theater option. I praised the 550 for its soundstage and virtual-surround quality, and was pleased to receive its bigger brother, the IncrediBase 575, soon after with memories of the former still fresh in my mind.
Features & Setup
The IncrediBase 575 employs the single-cabinet surround sound system design upon which ZVOX has based its name. And though there are numerous home-theater-in-a-box packages on the market, the ZVOX is truly that. The cabinet keeps everything – speakers, dual-powered subwoofers, amplifier and virtual surround circuitry – under one roof, enclosed in a sturdy MDF wood cabinet. The sides sport hand-lacquered high-gloss black end panels that have a polished and classy look.
This pumped-up model features five 3.25-inch full-range speakers, a pair of 6.5-inch subwoofers and a 133-watt amplifier. That’s enough power to drive the IncrediBase to very loud levels, even for those of us with sponge-like ears.
Setup is a simple 2-minute affair requiring just one connection – via the TV’s analog audio output or headphone jacks. TVs with audio output jacks that can be set to “variable” make using the 575 even easier. Set this under the TV’s Audio option and then you can control the ZVOX using the TV’s remote. If you want to add more low-end to the system, a subwoofer output jack on the back makes it easy to connect a powered subwoofer. As the owner’s manual rightly asserts, “Don’t worry – this is going to be simple.”
There’s no room calibration or tinkering with speaker alignment. Set the ZBASE on a sturdy, level platform; connect it to a TV or DVD/Blu-Ray player, and you’re good to go. The supplied remote controls volume, PhaseCue virtual surround, subwoofer and treble levels. To enhance the “surround” experience, simply increase the PhaseCue level. Want more bass? Turn up the subwoofer. Same goes for treble. There is no such option for cowbell, however.
A clever auto-on/auto-off circuit turns the ZBASE on about 1 second after powering up the TV. To keep the unit from being from being a power drain, the 575 goes into idle mode in about 3 minutes after a TV is turned off – handy if you fall asleep during a clunker.
If there’s one potential drawback to the 575, it’s the size. The unit is 3 feet wide, so a larger table, piece of furniture or A/V stand is necessary. But once the IncrediBase is set in place, it can serve as a platform for flat-panel TVs ranging in size from 37 to 65 inches and up to 140 pounds. Although I’m positively anti-stacking, the ZVOX’s top sports a black vinyl coating to help keep it scratch-free.